A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

What’s that smell? Body odor means puberty is starting

Image of a sweaty armpit - t-shirt

Sweaty clothes can harbor bacteria and cause body odor. Kids should wear fresh clothes daily once puberty starts.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of body odor to remind parents their little boys and girls are growing up and approaching puberty.

When kids start to smell differently, remember that it’s a normal part of growing up and that simple changes to their hygiene routine should keep kids smelling fresh.

Body odor usually is a sign of puberty

Parents and kids shouldn’t be alarmed by normal body odor. It’s caused by hormonal changes that come when children start puberty. Discussions with parents and books about puberty can help kids learn more about why their body is changing and what to expect as they get older.

“Body odor signaling the start of puberty can start as early as age 7 for girls and age 9 for boys,” said Dr. Kathryn Schaus, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician.

If body odor starts before age 7-9 or smells strange, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Certain medical conditions like Type 1 diabetes can cause an acetone-type smell. A diet that includes a lot of greasy food can cause odor in children of all ages.

Excessive sweating also can cause body odor when it combines with bacteria found naturally on your skin. Contact your child’s doctor if your child is sweating excessively.

Time to practice good hygiene

Body odor is natural, but it still can make kids self-conscious.

Around the time body odor starts, children should start taking a shower or bath every day. Bathing after physical activity is especially important to rinse away sweat that has combined with bacteria on the skin.

“It’s really important that kids wear fresh underwear, socks and other clothing daily because sweaty clothes can harbor bacteria and cause odor,” Schaus said.

Deodorant and antiperspirant can help reduce odor, including odor caused by sweating in active kids. Children can use an unscented product if they are sensitive to fragrances or don’t like the smell of scented deodorant.

Besides practicing good hygiene, staying hydrated and eating a healthful diet that doesn’t include a lot of greasy food should keep body odor at bay.

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